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Review: Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One

The IMF team led by Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) returns for their most dangerous mission yet in Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One, which continues the series’ trademark twisty and smart plots and the death-defying and thrilling action set pieces.

Dead Reckoning Part One sees Ethan Hunt and his IMF team on the trail of two pieces of a mysterious key.  No one is sure what the key actually unlocks but they do know that whoever has both parts of the key and can figure out what it goes to will control a powerful AI that is currently running rogue through cyberspace, distorting any and all digital information for its own mysterious purposes.  While staking out one half of the key, Ethan runs into crafty thief Grace (Hayley Atwell), who gets dragged into the international intrigue when she attempts to steal the key.  Also after the key is the mysterious Gabriel (Esai Morales), who has ties to Ethan’s past and is working on behalf of the AI aka The Entity.  The plot is what you’ve come to expect from the Mission: Impossible series with global stakes, double-crosses, and misdirects.  The hostile AI adds some interesting wrinkles into the mix as it can impersonate anyone it wants, delete data and manipulate things like surveillance but it might possibly be too powerful as a plot device, as the movie really goes all in with The Entity being able to do literally anything, even basically predicting the future by extrapolating data. The stakes are always raised in each M:I entry but this is a pretty big leap even from Fallout and its nuclear threat and the whole picture still needs to be fleshed out in Part Two.

The cast is fantastic across the board, with Tom Cruise doing is usual Ethan Hunt thing and the returning support team of Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, and Rebecca Ferguson feeling like old friends and firmly comfortable and settled in their roles.  Pegg is still great comedic relief, Rhames brings a warm wisdom and Ferguson is as bad-ass as ever, getting two particular action set pieces to shine.  Hayley Atwell is a fantastic new addition and brings an outsider’s perspective to the mission, as she’s not IMF and not used to the insanity that is the team’s bread and butter.  Atwell’s Grace takes up a large chunk of screentime alongside Cruise, so the returning IMF team gets put on the back burner for a bit but it seems like she’s going to be a major part of the series and her journey ties into the revelations about Ethan’s past and what it means to join the IMF.  Henry Czerny, not seen since the original Brian De Palma-directed M:I movie, makes his welcome return to the franchise and effortlessly slides back into Kittridge’s smarmy arrogance and contempt for Hunt and his rogue ways.  Vanessa Kirby is also a welcome returning cast member as The White Widow, last seen in Fallout, and brings some fun chaotic energy as the wild card determining who may get the full key.  Esai Morales is an intriguing and enigmatic villain but it feels like they are definitely saving some stuff for Part Two, especially with his ties to Ethan’s past.  He’s a ruthless antagonist and has some great confrontations with Ilsa and Ethan throughout the movie but I think we need to wait to see how things conclude to see if he’ll be among the ranks of Phillip Seymour Hoffman or Henry Cavill in the M:I franchise villain rankings.  Pom Klementieff is also fantastic as Gabriel’s main enforcer, Paris, who seems especially excited about delivering pain and mayhem and it’s definitely a testament to her acting abilities that she can go from the sweetness of Mantis in Guardians to the sadisticness of Paris here.

Tom Cruise has upped the action stakes with every M:I entry and Dead Reckoning Part One is no exception.  There are some fantastic set pieces, including the much-hyped mountain motorcycle jump to a parachute glide that is truly insane and there’s also the climactic face-off on the Orient Express that features a battle on top of the train and a tense climb through falling train cars that feels like Uncharted 2 or The Lost World.  The big car chase through Rome is also great, weirdly the second big Rome setpiece this year following Fast X, but there’s definitely a trend emerging between this and Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny and maybe even John Wick Chapter 4 a bit where the movies are closing in on three hours long and a lot of the length is extended action sequences.  I’ll never say I want less action but I think I might prefer shorter movies with tighter action than longer movies with more drawn-out action setpieces.  The opening scene in an airport and the Rome chase here are massive chunks of the movie and you could probably edit them down and get the movie closer to two hours, especially since you have a whole other movie coming to finish things up.  These super-extended sequences can be a bit dulling after a certain amount of time unless you are constantly doing something new or different.

I’ve loved pretty much every movie in the Mission: Impossible series (yes even the bizarreness of M:I 2) and Dead Reckoning Part One is another great entry in the franchise and further cements the brilliant pairing of Tom Cruise and Christopher McQuarrie.  There’s tons of action and a plot that keeps things moving and interesting despite the massive run time and I can’t wait to see how things conclude in Dead Reckoning Part Two, whenever that might be.

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